View From the Cab

The Heat Is On

Pam Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
Connect with Pam:
Each week Scott Wallis and Ashley Andersen report on current field conditions and life on the farm. (DTN photo courtesy of Wallis Farms and Andersen Farms)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Jarett Andersen asked his wife, Ashley, not to bother bringing him lunch to the field one day this past week. Then, at the last minute, he changed his mind and called from the sprayer, saying he could sure use a bite after all.

"I ended up running to town and grabbing something for him. I can't just turn the stove up higher to instantly whip up the kind of meal I like to take him," Ashley, who reports in each week from Blair, Nebraska, as part of DTN's View From the Cab, said with a sigh.

Three kids off school for the summer add to the daily frenzy. "When I finally got to the field with food, there were people to haul and other errands for me to do, and it was midafternoon before I made it back home. This season seems to have us all running around like crazy," she said.

Hang on ... there's an analogy in that lunch experience. The wacky weather has left many a farmer and farm family feeling off-kilter and overwhelmed this season.

Also, this week, nature dialed up the thermostat and the planted crop is now cooking along at a hurried pace. Whether it can make up for lack of heat units and lateness of the crop is still a question, said Scott Wallis, who is also participating in DTN's weekly series from Princeton, Indiana.

Wallis was still planting soybeans this week on acres that had previously been flooded. With a crop spread over a nearly three-month span, both farmers agree that almost everything about this season seems "cattywampus."

This week in his area, you can drive a 5-mile radius and see nearly every kind of field operation -- corn and soybean planting, wheat harvest, spraying, hay baling, sidedressing, row cultivating. "We have a place where there is corn at brown silk on one side of the road and V-3 on the other. It's nuts," he said.

Each week, Andersen and Wallis report on crop conditions and family life from their farms. This week, they also talk about what's special about their specific growing region and the remarkably similar challenges of farming in an increasingly populated area.

Here's what's happening in their parts of the farming world:

ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA

There's a saying in corn country that there are times you can actually hear and see the corn growing. Ashley Andersen can believe it because, this week, crop shot up fast as temperatures touched the triple digits and humidity hovered from 80% to 90%.

"It's hard to believe how much this crop has changed almost overnight," she said. "We know there are many areas that are not as fortunate, but honestly, if we catch the couple of the rains that are predicted, we are in a nearly perfect storm for growing conditions for corn."

Jarett said, when scouting fields, it is still easy to tell those that were planted late, but the crop as a whole is moving along. The Andersens plant corn in the 108-to-115-day maturity range and their soybeans range from 2.4 to 3.1 relative maturity. They did not swap any seed this year when planting dates stretched into June.

A forecast of rain had Andersen Farms hustling to complete spraying operations this week. They had to take a break from spraying herbicides to control an outbreak of thistle caterpillar in soybeans.

While many perceive Nebraska as flat, wide expanses, this east-central region of the state is more geographically diverse. The majority of the Andersen farm is steep, clay hills that are terraced, which is much different than what Ashley was used to growing up on a farm just an hour to the west.

"When Jarret and I started dating, I was riding with him in the auger cart, and he parked on a hill and it started sliding. I was ready to jump, but he just said it was normal," she recalled. Within the county, farmland may also be silt bottoms, heavy gumbo bottoms or sandy bottoms by the Missouri River. There are also some clay, rocky hills.

While the Andersens are 100% no-till, the variations in types of soils require a much more specialized approach to dealing with each parcel.

The biggest challenge currently, though, is the influx of people seeking a country lifestyle and moving from Omaha to their smaller towns. While that has helped stabilize the economies of smaller rural towns, it has caused some issues with acceptance of equipment on the road and operating at late hours.

Several years ago, Jarett purchased a camera for the back of the auger cart. "I run the auger cart a lot in the fall, and he got it mostly for me because it's difficult to see behind you when turning," she said.

"We now have rush hour every day along Route 30, and there are times you almost have to stop traffic to pull the semi onto that road.

"Most of our fields are along the highway. We try to take the back roads as much as possible because drivers just don't stop and it's really scary." They also have a busy railroad track that ties up traffic.

Things might slow down a bit for the family now that summer baseball and T-ball have come to a close.

"I try not to book their schedules too tight during the summer. I believe they need to just be kids once and awhile -- to ride bikes, play in the sprinkler and take in the county fair. These are good days to savor, and now that the crop seems to be shaping up better, I think we are all breathing a little easier," she said.

SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA

Wallis Farms has been keeping rainfall totals since 1951. It's something Scott Wallis' grandfather started, and they just kept up the habit. This year, they recorded an accumulated 23.4 inches in April, May and June.

"That's 47% of our average annual rainfall for the year in three months, and that's twice what we normally would [receive] in that time period," Wallis said. The 7 inches of rainfall received in eight days near the end June trimmed some off their crop yield potential, he believes.

"I'm not worried about our May-planted corn. It still looks good. But you don't have to look hard to know what fields have good drainage. Some of those that don't, look really sad," he noted.

Wallis goes into the holiday weekend feeling some sense of relief, though, that sidedressing on corn is complete. The rivers are starting to fall.

"We finally were able to get in and take a hard look, and we have a total of about 350 acres to redo," he said. He hopes to be able to plant soybeans on most of those acres by mid-July. This area of southern Indiana lies far enough south that the planting date isn't as much of a risk.

He will increase the soybean population by about 40%, though, over the 120,000 to 140,000 seeds per acre that they normally drop in 20-inch rows. "We have one field that there's no way to get to without tearing up standing corn, and it will likely sit for the year," he added.

You don't have to talk to Wallis long before he starts sprinkling numbers into the conversation. He's always figuring, and this year that generally applies to constantly calculating growing degree units (GDU).

As of Monday, his May-planted corn had picked up 1,050 GDU. June corn was at 620 GDU. "That's only 85% of the 10-year average for that time period. That's how cool we were during the month of June," he noted.

"We're getting them now," he said of heat units. "The last few days, you can't be out working for more than an hour without being able to wring your shirt out because of heat and humidity."

Looking back in the record books, his area of southwest Indiana typically gets 2,400 GDU between July 1 and Oct. 15 (which is the typical first normal frost for the area). The 10-year average for that same time slot factored out to 2,100 GDU.

"It's not real hard to average 25 or more units a day in July and August. If we get that, we'll see enough heat to get our May corn where it needs to be. But we're going to need the whole month of September to bring June corn home.

"There are some long-range forecasts for cooler temps in August. Given how wet and how late some of this crop went in, we really need some consistent rain and heat to keep it cooking along."

Farmers who visit this area almost always note how tall the corn grows and how the ear set is often higher than other places. "Part of that is the fertility of these soils," Wallis said. "But I also think it is part of our environmental climate being warmer and the proximity of the rivers adding humidity."

He said the nodes on corn and soybeans in the pocket between Princeton and Evansville often tend to be spaced farther apart. "That will be the case this year as late-planted crops tend to have more vegetative growth," he added. "That's another reason we like to plant as early as possible.

Gibson County, where the main farm headquarters sits, contains a group of highly competitive farmers who constantly push for top yields and efficiencies, Wallis noted. Land prices and rents are higher than in surrounding counties, which drive that competitiveness too. Urban development is also pressuring the cost of doing business.

A Toyota plant is also located next to the farm with 5,000 employees going in and out each day -- making it challenging to move equipment.

"Twenty years ago, if someone drove by, you always looked up to see who it was. We don't do it nowadays because we wouldn't get anything done," he said.

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(AG/BAS)

Pam Smith